Venezuela’s most iconic political prisoner, a man who has been jailed and muzzled for more than five years, called on his countrymen Thursday not to give up hope, saying that more military officers would be joining the movement in the coming weeks and days to oust leader Nicolás Maduro.
Speaking from the gate of the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas, where he took refuge on Tuesday, López said that Maduro had lost the confidence of his military command and would be forced to vacate the Miraflores presidential palace under pressure from the international community and mass protests.
A former presidential candidate, López was arrested in 2014 and was serving a 13 year prison sentence — most recently under house arrest. But he shocked the country on Tuesday when he appeared near an air force base standing alongside interim President Juan Guaidó to lead a military-civilian uprising.
The uprising fell flat, and López, his activist wife, Lilian Tintori, and their children went to the Chilean embassy and then ended up seeking refuge at the residence of the Spanish ambassador.
López, 48, thanked the Spanish government for offering protection and said he was considered a “guest” at the residence and would not be asking for political asylum.
He talked to the press just hours after Venezuela’s courts revoked his house arrest and said he would have to finish out his 13-year term at the Ramo Verde military prison.
López said he had spent more than two years in solitary confinement at Ramo Verde shortly after his 2014 detention.
“I don’t want to go back to prison because prison is hell,” he said. “But I also want to make it clear that I don’t fear jail in the same way I don’t fear Maduro and I don’t fear the dictatorship.”
Tuesday’s military uprising kicked off three days of protests that have turned violent as security forces attacked gatherings with teargas, buckshot and live fire.
Amnesty International confirmed that at least four people have died, more than 200 have been injured and at least 205 have been arrested since April 30.
While many people saw the uprising, which had limited impact, as another defeat for the embattled opposition, López said it was proof that the military was starting to split. He also said that even under house arrest, he was visited by generals and commanders who had grown weary of Maduro, who has been in power since 2013.
“I know the feelings of the military,” López said. “I know that they, like all other Venezuelans, are angry when they see children eating out of the garbage and they feel helpless when the troops they’re commanding have to eat rice with worms in it.”
López, the former mayor of Chacao, was seen as a presidential frontrunner until he and more than 100 other people were barred from office in 2008. After forming the Voluntad Popular party, he was one of the leaders of the 2014 protests that sought to oust Maduro. The government eventually charged him with homicide, terrorism and vandalism, and he was sequestered at the hilltop military prison after he turned himself in.
Although he was barred from talking to the press while under arrest, López said he hasd’t “rested a single day.” He’s also viewed as the political mentor and strategist behind Guaidó, the 35-year-old head of congress who Washington and more than 50 nations recognize as the country’s legitimate president.
And while he’s said their latest uprising was squashed, he also appears to be nervous. On Thursday, he held an unusual early-morning military rally demanding “loyalty” from his troops. There are also reports that some military units were confined to their barracks Thursday.
López said Maduro’s nervousness is warranted, as he’s lost his grip on the military. López said now that the military know that it’s “not alone,” even more members will abandon the embattled leader.
“The rupture has started,” López said. “The fissure that started on April 30th will become a crack and that crack will break the entire dam.”